Wednesday 29 November 2017


CD Review

Various artists

Hannah Martin, Tim Yates, Greg Russell,
Findlay Napier and Nancy Kerr

Historically there has been a symbiosis between the socio-political and the musical when it comes to the folk realm.

The link has been somewhat weakened since the upheaval and protest songs of the sixties and seventies.

Most notable is a very turbulent period in recent UK history, the Thatcher years, which seem to have been mostly overlooked by the folk fraternity.

This said, it’s refreshing a group comprised of some of our most respected, modern folk musicians – under the banner of Shake the Chains – is seeking to reconnect the music to the maelstrom and ferment of our uncertain times.

Recorded live, Nancy Kerr, Hannah Martin, Findlay Napier, Greg Russell and Tim Yates combine their own compositions with well-known anthems into a single collection that hopefully will motivate at least some of their listeners.

Stu Hanna’s production has seen the album come out with impressive clarity. It’s also worth mentioning the groups (see below) which have backed this project to make the album and tour possible.

The unmistakable voice of Kerr kicks things off with her own composition, Through the Trees. The song is one of three she fronts.

This one she wrote for her mother and all the women who made a stand at Greenham Common against nuclear arms.

Her second creation was inspired by an overheard conversation in a café. Poison Apples alludes to the suffering and eventual suicide of Alan Turing the famous code breaker.

He was vilified for his homosexuality regardless of his efforts in the Second World War. Although he is the focus it’s obvious her outrage is aimed at all persecution.

She pulls no punches with her version of Musician from Chile/Victor Jara of Chile. Her crier-style singing takes on a chilling quality in the first part of the tribute.
Victor Jara

Kerr is not so much singing as calling out about the dreadful event. The second part is a melancholy ballad where Kerr sets her voice to that of mourning to tell Victor’s arrest, torture and eventual murder.

The first of Greg Russell’s offering is EGA (Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) whose courage and refusal to be held back because she was woman inspired the song.

The song contains an impressive instrumental break called the Whitechapel Reel which was written by Kerr especially for Russell’s song.

Russell also brings his own take on probably one of the best known folk/protest songs, If I Had a Hammer. His strong Scots accent and his throaty singing style gives this global song real passion.

It’s debatable whether there is anything to commend politician Nigel Farage but you have to give him credit here - he was the inspiration for Russell’s own song, Bunch Next Door.

The jaunty, blues/honky-tonk style of Russell seems to be mocking Farage over his comment regarding Romanians. The song and easy guitar picking turns the spotlight on prejudice, racism and the NIMBY attitude.

Fellow Scot Findlay Napier gets his first shot at loosing off some steam with Building Ships. It does exactly what is says on the tin and tells of the devastation of the ship building industries. 

Napier’s masculine voice speaks of the short-termism and capitalistic sting which never takes into account the lives which get thrown on the scrapheap in the pursuit of more profit.

If you didn’t know Napier was Scottish then Ding Dong Dollar will dispel any doubt. Like many good protest songs this one is simple to learn and carried off with humour, but the message is loud and clear.

It’s Napier’s song which provides the title track for the album. The song has the old school righteous anger you associate with Billy Bragg and is close to a punk song.

His final offering is Freedom Come All Ye may need subtitles for some. It has the stirring countenance of a national anthem and Napier sings every word with intent.

Hannah Martin makes her first offering with the self-penned Glory of the Sun. She is another with a distinctive voice which sounds like a combination of Fay Hield and June Tabor with a smattering of Joan Armatrading.

The compilation album
Martin is a talented musician in her own right even though she is well known as one half of the duo Edgelarks*. Martin’s other composition, Song of the Jay, is a musical observation of the bird which has its own non-discriminatory funeral ritual for other birds.

Side by Side is Tim Yates’ single offering and is a powerful song with his gruff singing style adding gravitas. Kerr provides much of the harmonies and while their voices don’t sit quite comfortably together the ‘conflict’ does add to the strength of this protest against a socially divisive media, especially the right-wing press.

Fittingly enough the group get together for the final track which is the protest song most associated with the civil rights movement in the US.

The song by Charles Albert Tindley of course struck a chord around the world with anyone who felt they were being oppressed. The group, singing a Cappella, play with lead voices and harmonies to produce something which is deeply moving and spiritual and which proves the perfect way to take the album out.

This album has come out of a time which sees fear on the streets from terrorist threats and actions; people relying on food banks to survive; local authorities and essential public services being strangled by austerity measures; confusion and division over Brexit; corruption, greed and excess at every level of the political and judicial systems and the rich getting richer through exploitation and bending the rules to avoid paying their dues.

When you take a long hard look at the society we live in today the only question is why there aren’t more albums like Shake the Chains?

* The Edgelarks were formerly known as Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Shake the chains will be touring in 2018 along with a series of special guests kicking off on January 31 at Celtic Connections/Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow. G3 7DN. The first guest artist will be Karine Polwart. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 plus booking fee.
The following night, February 1, you can see them at Brewery Arts Centre, 122A Highgate, Kendal. LA9 4HE. Special guest is none other than Martin Simpson. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £17.50 in advance or £19.50 on the night plus £1.50 booking fee.
From there, on February 2, the group will be playing The Met, Market Street, Bury. BL9 0BW. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £22 plus £2.50 transaction fee. Special guest for the night will be the Commoners Choir.
On February 3 they play St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London. E2 9PA. Special guest this time will be Leon Rosselson plus one more TBA. Doors open 7pm and show starts 7.30pm. Tickets are £19.80 including booking fee.
Town Hall, Victoria Square, Birmingham. B3 3DQ, is their next venue on February 4 with special guest Steve Knightley plus one otherTBA. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £20 plus £2.50 fee.

Monday 27 November 2017


CD Review

Seven Sisters

 Joseph O'Keefe & Cole Stacey 

Duo Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe appear to be going through the process of reinventing the concept album, an idea big in the seventies and very popular with prog rock bands.

However, instead of a single or double album they are spreading their particular style of folk infused music over three EPs of which Seven Sisters is the second instalment.

The thread that binds the albums and, of course, the tunes and songs is the idea of using traditional music from England and Scotland to explore the juxtaposition of urban and rural culture and landscapes.

India Electric Company, as the duo is known collectively, are clever musicians who use their finely honed artistry not just to bring their thoughts to life in the minds of their listeners, but to create a sound and feel of a much bigger outfit. This mirrors the album because although it’s an EP there are more than 25 minutes of music to enjoy.

There are times when they sound akin to the now defunct Bellowhead in full flight. This is the case with the opening track, The Gulley, which is based on a tune from the 17th century with the words drawn from the 18th.

Stacey’s signature breathy style floats across with the sensation of a finger stroking over the soft fur of a rabbit’s paw. O'Keefe’s fiddle machine guns the tune in, which has a definite Latin feel to it with what sounds like a flamenco dancer providing highlights to the rhythm.

The way the pair use drop outs to isolate the voice and harmonising of the fiddle also helps keep the listener on their toes.

This gives way to Take the Buckles which from the opening bars shows its tartan credentials. Stacey has a marshmallow tone to his voice which is very similar in style to Dan Whitehouse, a talented singer/songwriter from the West Midlands.

Dan Whitehouse
Behind the singing O'Keefe provides almost a call and response scenario with his strings which have an innate melancholy as his notes thread between the electronics.

Chaos has a definite urban feel to it and you are almost fooled into thinking they have left the folk strand in the box for this one until O'Keefe earths it with his mountain music style inserts. There is something of the Billy Idol in the mixture which creates the atmosphere of a metropolis.

The enhanced voice of Stacey opens the familiar sounding The Cuckoo’s Nest (My Generous Lover) but its O'Keefe’s sliding fiddle sounds and the precise Spanish style guitar picking which take over your senses. The style and genetics of the song has overtones of Genesis/Phil Collins.

As if to reassure the listener that this music has definite folk credentials they bring a collection of jigs on what is the longest track on the disc. The tunes which include slip jigs feed the inner Morris dancer.

However, as the fiddle trips things along there seems to be some discordance until you realise it’s being accompanied on the piano which strangely enough gives it the feel of being played in a concert hall rather than a village green during festival time.

You can almost hear the whoops and hollers as the tune ups the pace and introduces a fuller sound where now the two instruments introduce a competitive edge.

The album closes with the ballad Flash Company, a tune which will be familiar to many. Stacey’s emotive and breathy tones are back as if to bookend the tracks. This time the piano is used sparingly to create emotional pinpoints almost like tears dropping to the floor.

There are strings and electronic highlights to this song but you wonder as you listen whether it would have more of an emotional impact with just the voice and the keys. It does seem to be gilding the lily somewhat but in no way spoils the track.

The second part of the trilogy
Seven Sisters carries on from EC1M and while comparisons would be odious SS seems infused with more maturity. With this second offering IEC seem more comfortable with a less-is-more approach.

You can tell there has been a great deal of thought exercised in the fusion of their contemporary styling with the traditional tunes and lyrics. 

Once again Stacey and O’Keefe have brought their rural Devonian roots into the urban arena and expressed a respect for both the present and the past, and they have used their considerable talents to create an atmospheric and thoughtful second instalment which leaves you eager for the finale.

Seven Sisters is available now through the band’s website and through downloads and will be officially launched on December 13 at Cecil Sharp House in London.

Wednesday 22 November 2017


CD Review

The Poacher’s Fate

Ted Kemp & Laura Smyth

Many folk musicians seem to be caught up in a trend of experimentation and fusion, bringing all manner of musical styles and electronics into their arrangements of traditional tunes and songs. 

So it’s a real treat when you get an album which earths its music very clearly back in the good, rich soil of tradition.

Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp concentrate on their voices to create a collection which is an authentic representation of a bygone sound and age. It has the feel of crackling wood fires, tankards of ale clinking in a haze of pipe smoke and travelling players settled at an inn to entertain the locals.

The title track opens the album and straight away the clarity of Smyth’s voice washes over you like plunging your face into a freshly drawn pail of well water. Kemp’s deeper-voiced harmonies complement her singing perfectly in a style which has stood the test of time.

Smyth sings solo on the following track Alizon Device, her own composition. Her voice lies somewhere in between Fay Hield and Nancy Kerr which is in no way a qualitative comparison. All three songstress’ voices are wonderful in their own right.

The song, about an infamous witch trial, is accompanied simply by Kemp on the banjo. The uncluttered nature of the track is like a tonic for the ears.

There is a Tavern will be familiar to almost anyone who has an interest in folk or traditional music. However, the stripped back nature of their performance gives it a real freshness. Kemp is once again there adding the tune with his precise picking.

Kemp swaps roles with Smyth for Murder in the Red Barn. His vocal style is simple, stylish and could be seamlessly transported to the renaissance.
The Pendle witches trial

Smyth’s harmonies almost sneak up on you in their subtlety but they are no less clear for being underneath Kemp’s voice.

Cecilia is sung a Capella by Smyth, which gives you another chance to indulge in her crystal tones. She adopts a style which is somewhere between singing and storytelling where she is able to create drama with her changes in pitch and tone.

The only instrumental on the album is a doublet of Winder’s Hornpipe and the ominously titled Kill Him With Kindness. It’s a gentle, light pair of tunes given character by the shifting tones of Smyth on the concertina.

Smyth brings her voice back for Here’s Adieu to all Judges and Juries. Her voice takes on a deeper tone which reminds a lot of Hannah Martin. But the laser precision of her notes are incredibly piercing in their clarity.

She also provides a rich atmosphere with the growling strings of her cello.

You will be hard pushed to get more traditional than The Brown Hare of Whitebrook which even contains the wonderfully archaic refrain “fol de rol de day”. The song is floated softly along on the tones of Smyth’s squeezebox and Kemp’s gentle guitar.

Brave Benbow is another duet sung a Capella and the perfect blending of the pair’s voices is as harmonious as you could hope for.

Once again Smyth changes the emotion in her voice for The Manchester Angel. The marching style cadence gives it a real strength with Smyth’s cello adds a deep and sad tone to proceedings. Kemp’s understated banjo playing adds an almost sinister tone to the tune.

You have to do a double take when they move into Wild Rover. It’s the traditional song popularised by The Dubliners but their version catches you unawares. It’s only when you catch the lyrics that you realise how familiar they are but surrounded by an unfamiliar arrangement from the two excellent musicians.

The new album
The penultimate track is another a Capella rendering from Smyth who adds strong emotion to Carrickmannon Lake.

As she sings there is no strain in her voice, you get a sense she is holding it at half power but still there is the impressive clarity of tone and precision of words which makes the listener feel they are in the same room.

The final track is a surprise and an unusual way to end the album. It’s Smyth’s grandfather David Smyth reciting a rhyme about County Down in Northern Ireland.

These two people who are steeped in folk music, they are both librarians with Smyth being the Library and Archives Director for the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. This enables them to get under the skin of their music with detailed notes about the songs.

They obviously have a great depth of knowledge and respect for the history of the tunes they have arranged and that comes out in the tight, stripped back and uncluttered songs and tunes they have put together on this album.

The Poacher’s Fate is officially released November 25 on the Broken Token label and available now through the duo’s website, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Wednesday 8 November 2017


CD Review

Pretty Peggy

Sam Kelly has one of the most recognisable voices around the folk and acoustic scene. His tones feel like a chocolate ganache matured in a smoke house. Kelly was responsible for one of the most beautiful and expressive songs for many years in I'll Give You My voice (see below).

Sam Kelly
For this new album, Pretty Peggy, he has once again surrounded himself with The Lost Boys who are part of a cast which reads like a Who’s Who? of folk and includes Geoff Lakeman, father of the Lakeman folk dynasty, playing spoons no less.

Kelly opens the album with a slapping beat, like waves on the prow of a ship which is appropriate for a track called Looking Out for the Greenland Whale. It sounds like a hybrid of a broadside and a shanty and is full of verve.

Particularly worthy of note is the colour added by Jamie Francis on banjo. About two thirds of the way in there is a distinct change of pace, almost as if Kelly and the band were holding back waiting for a signal to let all hell loose; if you are going to open an album then this is an impressive way to do it.

This gives way to the title track, a tangibly smooth version of a traditional song. Kelly gives his signature warble free reign as part of a lovely ballad which includes another stunning voice - Cara Dillon - who has just released her new album, Wanderer.

Toby Shaer on the fiddle adds definite character to Angeline the Baker, keeping the dancing tune straddling a line between hoe down and bluegrass.

When the Reivers Call has a dark brooding character which seems to have picked up the feel of a prog rock ballad of old. With a much harder and thumping cadence it still very cleverly keeps its folk roots on full display.
Cara Dillon

In what is almost a perverse juxtaposition, If I Were A Blackbird is one of the simplest tunes from the band.

The song has been around so long it’s almost thought of more like a nursery rhyme, something like Bobby Shafto. As if playing with the listener, Kelly knows this is the sort of song his vocal skill breathes new life into.

It’s a musical treat where you wouldn’t necessarily listen to it because of its familiarity but Kelly’s captivating voice is what draws you in.

The Shining Ship has a fantastic intro, you could easily envision it as the opening soundtrack to some epic film from the Coen Brothers or the like.

Kelly’s voice adds to the haunting quality with the style sounding strongly influenced by far off exotic places. You get a taste of the Far East, the Middle East and even the Aussie Outback.

There is a real manic quality to both Kelly’s vocals and the maelstrom of the musicians backing him, it’s like they are struggling to keep it on the acceptable side of sanity and slowly losing the battle.

This gives way to Chasing Shadows which comes across as a battle of sound with the subtle yet machine gun rattle of Francis on the banjo trying to drag Kelly’s vocals along in what is a very pleasant ballad.

The Close Shave is a highly amusing and bawdy tale of deception which is always a joy to hear. Kelly’s version is sprightly with Shaer adding a lovely thread of frivolity through his whistles.

It’s Shaer who leads proceedings on the following track, Shy Guy’s Serve. There is a strong fusion of the modern and Celtic traditional in this instrumental.

Crash on the Levee comes in with a brooding electronic sound and is more rock than folk. The harder, throbbing beat stands out from the other tracks and is obviously Kelly and TLB stretching their musical muscles.

The new album
The more familiar Kelly returns on the penultimate track, The Keeper. Apart from The Blackbird it’s probably the most traditional sound on the album.

It’s fast-paced and throws everything into the mix to create a real full and fascinating musical picture. You can almost see Kelly with his finger in his ear as he sings amongst the leaves o’ green-oh.

Kelly and TLB take the album out with The Rose which has a distinct flavour of Simon & Garfunkel in the harmonies and softness of the singing.

Kelly and TLB have created an album which is diverse; brings tunes which move across musical boundaries and which has a rich melee of sounds, all of which enhance and enrich the central core of Kelly’s unmistakable vocals without being in any way overshadowed by them.

Pretty Peggy is out now on the Navigator Label distributed by Proper Music. It is available from the band's website and through Amazon and iTunes.

Kelly is touring with the album over the next two months either with the band or as a duo with Francis starting November 15 at Red Lion Folk Club, Vicarage Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham. B14 7LY. The Duo will be supported by Richi Jones. Doors open around 7.15pm with the show at 7.45pm and tickets are £13.20.

Then on November 27 you can see him with TLB at Kingkerswell Parish Church, Newton Abbot, Devon. TQ12 5LD. Doors open 7pm and tickets are £13.20.

There is a fair old journey for the band for the next night's gig on November 28 where they will play Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich. NR2 4PG. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £12 or £10 concessions plus £1 online or telephone booking fee.

Then on November 29 the band will be performing at Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent's Park Road, London. NW1 7AY. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets £14 or £10 for under-26. There is a £2 online booking fee or a £2.50 telephone booking fee. No fees apply if booked in person. To end the month they will play Forest Arts Centre, Old Milton Road, Hampshire. BH25 6DS. The show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 or £14 with concessions plus 50p booking fee.

At the start of next month the band can be found at Stamford Arts Centre, 27 St Mary's Street, Stamford, Lincs. PE9 2DL Show kicks off at 8pm and tickets are £16 or £14 concessions plus £1 booking fee. Support will be from Jellyman's Daughter

The following night, December 2 they will be performing at Kings Somborne Village Hall, Recreation Ground,off Romsey Road, King's Somborne, Stockbridge, Hampshire. SO20 6PP. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £15 in advance or £17 on the night. Please note ticket payments online are through Paypal although you don't need to have a Paypal account to be able to buy. They can also be bought by cheque then notified via email and if you pay on the night it's cash only.

Their next gig is on December 5 where you can see them at Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5EG. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £14 or £12 if you are a friend of the venue. 

Following this on December 6 they will be playing St Lawrence Parish Church, Congleton Road, Biddulph, Stoke-on-Trent. ST8 7RG. Show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £13.20 including booking fee. On December 7 they will be performing at Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield. S11 7BS. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £14.30 including booking fee. The band will again be supported by Jellyman's Daughter. 

Their final gig of the month is Kelly & Francis, on December 15 and at The Ram Club based at Old Cranleighan, Portsmouth Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey. KT7 0HB. It's a Christmas party show, however no ticket information or times were available at time of publication. Check with the website over the coming weeks for updates.

Every effort has been made to ensure all information is correct at time of publishing.Folkall accepts no responsibility for information received in good faith about dates, times or costs which is incorrect or for broken links to websites. Where long journeys are likely it is recommended that you check for updates on the relevant sites before starting out.